The Ottawa Senators are having a tough year, currently sitting seventh in the Atlantic Division while having to play in a mostly empty Canadian Tire Centre due to COVID restrictions. Still, if you watch their games, you can tell that they’re taking it all in stride.
They’ve won four out of their last seven games, and there are a number of positives to look at over their current stretch of hockey. Here are a few of the more noteworthy ones.
Senators’ Shot Volume
Good teams normally outshoot their opponents. If they don’t, they rely on tight defensive structures and superb goaltending to limit high danger chances, and stifle them when they occur. This was the not-so-secret secret of the New York Islanders last season, and the New Jersey Devils of years past.
The Senators have been outshooting opponents lately, including in their recent losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, and their most recent shutout win over the Sabres. The margin has been impressive as well, with a difference of plus-36 through those games. If they continue to bring the energy and shot volume this season, the results will come.
Senators’ Elite Top Line
The trio of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson has been lights-out all season long. When they’re on the ice, they drive play and create opportunities. Even in the darkest of times, they play with aggression and determination, willing the rest of the team to join them in battle.
One thing they do effectively is forecheck. When Tkachuk was drafted, it was always expected that he would bring physical and pesky play every time he stepped on the ice. He has proved that, and more, as he loves to drive the net and has a nice scoring touch as well.
But with 229 hits this season between the three of them, they form one of the most physical scoring lines in the league. Batherson has been especially aggressive, which is a side of his game he wasn’t known for when he was drafted. But with a 6-foot-3, 204 pound frame, he uses his size effectively in the offensive zone to drive the net and separate opponents from the puck.
Lately, head coach D.J. Smith has been experimenting with splitting the trio into separate lines, which has come with mixed results. It will be interesting to see how Smith handles his options going forward.
Emergence of Formenton and Stützle
Last week I wrote about the play of Alex Formenton, stressing that he deserves to be a permanent fixture in the Senators’ top six. This is based on his speed, effort level, and recent point production, all leading to increased confidence and poise with the puck. I also argued that he should be featured on the second power-play unit, as it will help with his offensive development.
As one reader pointed out, another aspect of his game that is undervalued, and further promotes the argument that he is a top-six forward, is that he plays with an edge. If the Senators keep stockpiling pesky players, like Tkachuk, Formenton, and prospect Ridly Greig, they will be well equipped for playoff hockey when the time comes.
Fresh off his move to centre, Tim Stützle has been more confident and productive. In the last game against Columbus, he showed off his high-end speed and skill to rush into the offensive zone and finish with a pretty backhand deke to score the game-winning goal.
Since I got moved to the middle, I just want the puck every time I’m breaking it out. I’m trying to make calm plays because if you watch the best players in the league, they have so much poise when they get the puck. And I’ve just tried to bring that to my game.Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators Forward
That’s exactly the type of thing you want to hear from the young German. If he wants the puck on his stick, and is poised and assertive with it, he is going to be a star in this league. If he can develop into a top-line centreman, that’s just another box ticked off the Senators’ wish list.
The two youngsters have been playing well, and also showing great chemistry together. They may end up forming a line that lasts well into the future.
Brännström Making Positive Strides
Erik Brännström was supposed to be a game-changing, puck-moving defenceman when the Senators acquired him from the Vegas Golden Knights in the Mark Stone trade. Some fans even referred to him as the next Erik Karlsson.
Well, maybe he isn’t that, but he’s still been damn good lately. The point production isn’t there yet, but he’s getting some time on the second power play unit, and is bound to get some points eventually.
His biggest asset is still his passing ability, as he has routinely been confident making the first pass out of the defensive zone, giving the Senators a chance to break out with speed. On the flip side, he has been outmuscled on the defensive end at times, but his positioning and stick work have been solid, and has even featured on the penalty kill at times.
Sadly, he was put into COVID protocols this afternoon, so he might be out for a few games. Hopefully he can pick back up where he left off when he returns.
Murray Back in the Fold
It’s no secret that Matt Murray has struggled since he was acquired from the Penguins back in 2020. I even wrote an article about the trade, citing that he was struggling before the move, and that he might be in line for a demotion to the American Hockey League.
All of that has come and gone, and now he’s back with the big club, or the taxi squad for the time being. He seems out to prove me wrong, as he is 3-0-1 in his past three starts with a .941 save percentage. This is great news for the Senators, as they’re still on the hook for two more years of a four-year, $25 million contract.
If he can keep this up, he could end up sticking with the club next season, or moving on to a contender in a trade before the deadline, netting the Senators a prospect or a pick. That might be wishful thinking, but he is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, and has been lights-out at other times in his career.
The Senators aren’t likely to compete for a playoff spot this year due to their slow start. But I’d like to think that if they had some more timely saves, and better goaltending overall, that they might have had a chance at a wild card spot. Regardless, there are clearly some great things going on, even if the results in the win column are mediocre.
Writer and hockey addict from the GTA, covering the Ottawa Senators. Leafs fan from birth, moved to BC to explore the mountains and find the strength to keep cheering. Love talking prospects, potential, and coaching strategies.